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Parents urged to learn social media in Wendover Middle School talk

| Friday, May 9, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Teenagers may have more apps on their smartphones than parents can name, but parents must learn enough about social media to teach them how to use it safely, a social media expert said on Thursday.

Parents wouldn't hand over their car keys without teaching their child to drive, but many give their child a smartphone or tablet without teaching them what is safe to share and with whom it's safe to connect, said Ryan Klingensmith, a licensed professional counselor and social media expert with UPMC's Western Psychiatric Institute.

“Don't stick your head in the sand (with technology). Try to keep up with it,” Klingensmith said.

Klingensmith gave an adults-only presentation on how teens use social media and how it affects them at Wendover Middle School as part of the Hempfield school's Mental Health Awareness Week. He will offer a modified presentation to students today.

Ryan Killen, Wendover's school counselor, said the idea came from students who said they wanted to learn more about how social media relates to mental health, a topic that gets less attention than drug prevention or anti-bullying campaigns.

Klingensmith stressed that teens need to learn that “if you post on this app, this is what could happen.” Too often, teens post their full names, phone numbers and photographs with geo-tags that pinpoint within 3 feet of where they took a picture.

Klingensmith explained apps that parents might not know, such as Kik (which lets users send text, photo and video messages), Chat Roulette (which connects you via webcam with random people) and Ask.fm (which lets users anonymously ask someone questions).

And he explained how hashtags, the words or phrases that begin with a # sign, make a message or photo searchable but can also clue parents in to what their child is really doing or thinking.

He said #blithe is “one you should put in your brain” because it's an umbrella term used to express depression or denote eating disorders and self harm.

Adults should keep Urban Dictionary handy so they can look up seemingly innocuous words to see what they might be a code for today, Klingensmith said. For example, a party invitation that includes #xyz means alcohol will be served, not “examine your zipper” as it meant in decades past, he said.

Teens today are dealing with the issues their parents faced, such as gossip and violence, but now they're in person and online.

“If it's going on in their device, unless they tell us about it, it's hidden,” Klingensmith said. “It's another level of things kids need to deal with.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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